“From Rusticus … I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.”
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.7.3
The smartest people I know ask the dumbest questions. They also ask the best questions but I wanted to start out with a dramatic statement, you know as a hook. I feel like too many people sit idly by and are content with not fully understanding something to avoid the chance they may look dumb for a moment. I think the real risk is when you are not in constant pursuit of proper information.
Say you’re in a business meeting with a client and went over the details of the problem you are trying to solve and you are confused. You don’t want to lose the client so you don’t say anything and just nod your head in hopes of figuring it out later. But what you just did hurt both ends of the business relationship. It’s because of your ignorance that you just compromised your ability to serve that client the best you can. Don’t be afraid of losing the sale, be afraid that you just lost the customer. Chances have it others in the room have the same question.
Never be afraid to ask dumb questions to fully understand something.
Asking interesting and obscure questions is the key to getting the answers you most want. If you ask an average question you will get an average answer.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone successful and who you have great respect for. They answer mediocre questions most of the day so they come up the same run of the mill answers so they really don’t have to pay those questions too much mind. It is when they hear the extraordinarily quality and creative questions that obviously took some thought that they most open up to.
You have 50% control over how a conversation goes and it starts with asking the right questions. But this is a skill you must actively practice. Don’t just think when the time comes you’ll muster up a great question. Start by actively asking the best questions you can in everyday conversation. Experiment with questions may find a tad radical or you wouldn’t have previously asked.
Follow these basic rules and you’ll notice a large difference in your life:
- Ask questions when you don’t fully understand something.
- Put effort and thought into asking creative and different questions.
- Shut up and listen when others in the room have more value to add to the conversation than you do.
- And speak up when you do have value to add to the conversation.